The Martian

sperm whaleI was eight and in the Cub Scouts.

Every year, we held a miniature soapbox derby. Each Cub Scout designed and carved a car of his own design out of a piece of wood about the size of a block of Velveeta cheese. Then we raced each other’s cars down a sloped indoor track to see who’s car was the fastest.

Dads were busy and kids weren’t too sophisticated in the early sixties. So when my dad off- handedly suggested a car design with a bulbous front end tapering down to the back end I thought he must know what he was talking about. I started shaping.

When the day of the contest arrived my dad had to go to work. The other Cub Scouts and their dads showed up with conventional looking designs, narrow on the front and taller at the back end. Mine was the opposite. I had to insist my door wedge looking car be released down the track looking like a miniature sperm whale sitting between small Indy 500 shapes. It didn’t go well for my design.

All of us were milling around in our navy blue cub scout uniforms. Mine may as well been green because I felt like a Martian. Trying different things normally leads to failure, that’s part of it, and you can think of it more as feedback. But as an eight year old with no real grasp on why my car was shaped like Moby Dick and alone in an unsupportive group, I felt weird rather than like some sort of car designer testing shapes .

It was a memorable experience but not too traumatic. I thought of all this because of a doctor I saw for a neck problem. He felt sure that I’d had a problem with my dad when I was eight or nine.

First, I have no idea how he came up with that specific analysis. Second, what kind of medical school had he gone to?

The biggest problem I could come up with was the story I just told which isn’t very traumatic.

I still have a neck problem.